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Cats celebrates musical breed

Many live musicals are built on catchy show tunes or a steamy romance. However, those performances which remain true to a quality score, eloquent lyrics, and classic choreography are the hallmarks of a long-running Broadway show, proving why such an event is worth the money.

Cats, a musical which has run almost continually since 1981, is a mainstay in this category.

Structured around poems by T. S. Elliot, the show provides a colorful, quirky portrait of a London alley filled with ?Jellicle? cats. However, instead of a moving plot, the show focuses on the characters’ feline personalities

Cats ran for 21 years in London?s West End and began on Broadway a year after its opening. Its instant popularity has spawned several tours, including Columbia Artists Theatrical?s current span of North America.

Unlike many plays, in which the show is carried by one or two main voices, the gang of cats sing in 4 part harmony in an astonishing range, all while highlighting the Saroyan Theatre stage with perfectly synchronized dancing, characterized by smooth, catlike movements.

The first song begins with an explanation of the London cats’ gathering. They title themselves ?Jellicle? cats, a type of cat that throw a ball once a year to honor their leader, Old Deuteronomy. To celebrate pride in their breed, these cats throw parties in the evening reminiscent of daytime parades.

The play proceeds by introducing the audience to many different characters. This includes an Elvis type ladies? man named Rum Tum Tugger (Zander Meisner), a retired theater cat reliving the glory days, and two sneak-thieves exotically named Mungojerry (Andrew Parker Greenwood) and Rumpleteazer (Kristy Cavanaugh).

While the colorful characters have no intrinsic importance in the plotless play, certain performances became trademarks of the play. The most obvious of these is “Memory” by Grizzabella the Glamour Cat, an old, ragged cat reborn in the final song. She descends from the ceiling in an array of sparkle and fog, belting out a huge musical number of personal reflections. Actress Tricia Tanguy stole the show with her charismatic presence and masterful voice.

The musical in Cats never fails to entertain. Back handsprings, lifts and jumps punctuate the never ceasing movement that dominates the stage.

Purists who truly appreciate fine music, poetry and dancing will fall in love with Cats. However, those seeking action and a driving plot may find themselves yawning by the middle of the second act.

Cats is an example of classic Broadway: all the focus is on the music, the dancing, and the wonderfully outrageous costumes. While this has made it a hallmark in London, New York and stages across the world, it may fail to endear a modern audience.

The seemingly pointless illustration of the feline community is fun but fails to truly captivate the audience. I never felt emotionally involved with any of the characters, causing indifference to the play’s outcome.

Another downfall of the performance was the music: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original orchestration was recorded on a synthesized system. This boxed music resulted in far less than a majestic sound.

The musical is truly a hallmark of classic Broadway, but it’s lack of driving plot and emotion will prevent it from becoming a smash to a modern audience.

Cats played in Fresno Apr. 8-10 and will next travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico on Apr. 27. To buy tickets, visit Ticketmaster online.

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